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CONVENT OF JESUITS.
From this place I proceeded to the ci-devant convent of the jesuits, built by one of the munificent dukes de Bourbon. It is a magnificent oblong stone building. In the centre of the court was a tree of liberty, which, like almost all the other trees, dedicated to that goddess, which I saw, looked blighted, and sickly. I mention it as a fact, without alluding to any political sentiment whatever. It is a remark in frequent use in France, that the caps of liberty are without heads, and the trees of liberty without root. The poplar has been selected from all the other trees of the forest, for this distinguished honour, from a whimsical synonymy of its name with that of the people. In french, the poplar is called peuplier, and the word peuple signifies people. This fine building is now converted into an university of learning, and the fine arts. From the number of the students, I should suppose the fashionable fervour of study had not as yet reached Rouen.
The professor of philosophy, with great politeness sent a young man to show me the museum of pictures, for which purpose the church of the jesuits, is at present used. There are several paintings in it, the only fine one, was a dying Jesus by Vandyke, which was exquisite. Upon my expressing my admiration, a young student near me said "oui monsieur c'est trhs jolie." This misapplied remark, from an easy and natural combination of sound, could not fail of seeming a little singular as applied to such a subject, but every thing that pleases in France is tres jolie. From this painting, I was, by importunity, led to view the other parts of the collection, which were composed of large pictures, by french masters; and so natural is local prejudice,
every where, that I was almost held down, before the works of the best artists of Rouen, upon which, as I am at liberty here, I shall beg to make no comment.
In the students* room, below, were some paintings curious, and valuable only, from their great antiquity, and a few good copies by the pupils. A picture was pointed out to me as a very fine thing, the subject was a fat little cherub, with a full flowing wig, fiddling to St. Francis, who from his gloomy appearance seemed not to possess half the musical genius of a dancing bear.
Upon my return through the market place, 1 beheld the miserable wretch, at whose trial I was present in the morning, led out to execution. He was seated upon the bottom of a cart, stripped above to his shirt, which was folded back, his arms were pinioned close behind, and his hair was closely cropped, to prevent the stroke of the fatal knife from being impeded. A priest was seated in a chair beside him. As the object of my excursion was to contemplate the manners of the people, I summoned resolution to view this gloomy and painful spectacle, which seemed to excite but little sensation in the market place, where its petty traffic and concerns proceeded with their accustomed activity, and the women at their stalls, which extended to the foot of the scaffold, appeared to be impressed only with the solicitude of selling their vegetables to the highest bidder. A small body of the national guards, and a few boys and idlers surrounded the fatal spot. The guillotine, painted red, was placed upon a scaffold, of about five feet high. As soon as the criminal ascended the upper step which led to it he mounted, by
i the 58 UUILLOTINE.
Chap. the direction of the executioner, a little board, like a shutter, ^Ij raised upright to receive him, to which he was strapped, turned down flat, and run into a small ring of iron half opened and made to admit the neck, the top part of which was then closed upon it, a black leather curtain was placed before the head, from which a valve depended, which communicated to a tub, placed under the scaffold to receive the blood, the executioner then touched a long thin iron rod, connected with the top of the instrument, and in a moment the axe descended, which was in the form of a square, cut diagonally, heavily charged with lead. The executioner and his assistants placed the body in a shell, half filled with saw dust, which was almost completely stained over with the brown blood of former executions; they then picked up the head, from a bag into which it had fallen, within the curtain, and having placed it in the same gloomy depository, lowered the whole down to the sextons, who covering it with a pall bore it off to the place of burial.
The. velocity of this mode of execution can alone recommend it. The pangs of death are passed almost in the same moment, which presents to the terrified eye of the sufferer the frightful apparatus of his disgraceful dissolution. It is a dreary subject to discuss; but surely it is a matter of deep regret, that in England, criminals doomed to die, from the uncertain and lingering nature of their annihilation, are seen writhing in the convulsions of death during a period dreadful to think of. It is said, that at the late memorable execution of an african governor for murder, the miserable delinquent was beheld for fifteen minutes GOVERNOR W . 59
nutcs struggling with the torments of his untimely fate! Chav. The guillotine is far preferable to the savage mode, formerly VI" used in France, of breaking the criminal upon the wheel, and leaving him afterwards to perish in the most poignant agonies.
As I have alluded to the fate of governor W , I will conclude this chapter by relating an anecdote of the terror and infatuation of guilt, displayed in the conduct of this wretched man, in the presence of a friend of mine, from whom I received it—A few years before lie suffered, fatigued with life, and pursued by poverty, and the frightful remembrance of his offences, then almost forgotten by the world, he left the south of France for Calais, with an intention of passing over to England, to offer himself up to its laws, not without the cherished hope that a lapse of twenty years had swept away all evidence of his guilt.
At the time of his arrival at this port town, the hotel in
which Madame H was waiting for a packet to Dover was
very crowded—the landlord requested of her, that she would he pleased to permit two gentlemen, who were going to England, to take some refreshment in her room; these persons proved to be the unfortunate Brooks, a king's messenger, charged
with important dispatches to his court, and governor W .
The latter was dressed like a decayed gentleman, and bore about him all the indications of his extreme condition. They had not been seated at the table Jong, before the latter informed the former, with evident marks of perturbation, that
GOVERNOR W .
his name was W , that having been charged in England
with offences, which, if true, subjected him to heavy punishment, he was anxious to place himself at the disposal of its laws, and requested of him, as he was an english messenger, that he would consider him as his prisoner, and take charge of him.
The messenger, who was much surprised by the application told him, that he could not upon such a representation take hiin into custody, unless he had an order from the duke of Portland's office to that effect, and that in order to obtain it, it would be proper for him to write his name, that it might be compared with his hand writing in the office of the secretary at war, which he offered to carry over with him. Governor W still pressed him to take him into custody, the messenger more strongly declined it, by informing him that he was the bearer of dispatches of great importance to his court, that he must immediately cross the Channel, and should hazard a passage, although the weather looked lowering, in an open boat, as no packets had arrived, and that consequently it was altogether impossible to take him over, but again requested him to write his name, for the purpose already mentioned; the governor consented, pens and paper were brought, but the hand of the murderer shook so dread fully, that he could not ivrite it,- and in an agony of mind, bordering upon frenzy, he rushed out of the room, and immediately left the town
The messenger entered the boat, and set sail; a storm quickly followed, the boat sunk in sight of the pier, and all on board but one of the watermen, perished!!!